Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and Method

An Early Case: The Vampire of Sacramento

"Vampire of Sacramento", police sketch
"Vampire of Sacramento", police sketch
Richard Trenton Chase, the "Vampire of Sacramento," was quickly identified and apprehended with the help of a psychological profile in 1978. He had murdered a woman in her home, eviscerating her and drinking her blood. It was so brutal that the FBI was called in, and it gave the profilers a chance to show what they were worth. Agents Robert Ressler and Russ Vorpagel developed independent profiles, and both wrote about this case in their respective books.

Ressler says it was the first time he was able to go on-site with a profile, and he was ready. He offers a step-by-step method analysis for how he derived the traits he lists. For example, from a psychiatric study of body type and mental temperament hed read, he decided the offender was scrawny. Given the disorder at the scene, it was likely that the UNSUB did not have a career or much education - nothing that required organized thinking and concentration. The profile was all a matter of logic and knowledge about principles of human behavior, which Ressler was able to fully explain to anyone who asked. Vorpagels profile was similar.

Ressler figured the UNSUB for a disorganized killer as opposed to an organized one, with clues pointing toward the possibility of paranoid psychosis. He clearly had not planned the crime and did little to hide or destroy evidence. He left footprints and fingerprints, and had probably walked around oblivious to the blood on his clothing. In other words, he gave little thought to the consequences. His domicile would be as sloppy as the place he had ransacked, and his mental capacity was likely screwed up. That meant he probably did not drive a car, indicating he lived in the vicinity of the crimes. He was white, 25-27, thin, undernourished, lived alone, and probably had evidence that pointed to the crime in his home. He was likely unemployed and the recipient of disability money. All of this was derived from known information that such crimes tended to be intra-racial, specific to a certain age range, and similar to other people with a paranoia-based mental illness. From what Ressler knew, it was also likely that this offender would kill again, and keep on killing until he was caught. They had to work fast.

Richard Trenton Chase
Richard Trenton Chase
Three days after the first murder, the killer struck again, this time slaughtering three people in their home, including a man and a child. He grabbed a baby and stole the family car, but then abandoned it in broad daylight. This suggested an oblivious, unhinged mind and offered more information for refining the profile. Ressler and Vorpagel were sure he lived close to both scenes, and after a massive manhunt the police found Chase living less than a block from the abandoned car. His appearance was just as anticipated and he suffered from paranoid delusions. He was also 27 years old. Body parts, empty pet collars, and a bloodstained food blender were found in his apartment. He lived alone, was unemployed, and had a history of psychiatric incarceration. He had been released only months before he began to kill. His arrest stopped a string of murders that apparently, from marks on his calendar, was to include some 44 more victims that same year.

Vorpagel faced this man in the interrogation room, and Chase admitted he had committed the murders, but had done nothing wrong. He was saving his own life, because his blood was turning to sand and he needed theirs to prevent it. Talking to someone like Chase helped to confirm what the profilers thought, and it was cases such as this that gave Ressler an idea.